Agency Life: Not all clients are created equal
by TJ Njozela (@tj_njozela) Knowing the type of client you’re dealing with may make it easier to understand each other. Here are a few types of clients you’re likely to encounter and some tips on how to turn the pressure of real-life challenges into a fairytale ending.
Agency life is fast-paced and highly creative, and collaboration is more often than not key to successful campaigns. This means that you have to deal with other people. All kinds of people. Some of those people will be clients who, just like the agency, dream of a strong relationship built on trust, respect and honesty to help their brands and agencies work together and grow together, so they may ride off into the sunset, living happily ever after.
Our job as advertisers is to help our clients solve business problems, particularly with their communication to the general public. To do this, it’s very important to maintain a good working relationship, and as with any relationship, it takes a conscious effort to get it right.
The serial panicker
This is the type of client who believes in only one law; Murphy’s Law. Anything that can go wrong probably will, and this keeps them constantly on edge. Having a time-machine is very handy in these situations because everything needs to be done yesterday. Instead of dismissing them as a nervous wreck, you need to understand the reason that your inbox is filled with emails asking “Are we there yet?” and why you’re on your phone every five minutes to answer the very same question.
Sometimes the anxiousness is based on previous partners who’ve let them down at a crucial moment. Sometimes it’s because they are under pressure from the higher-ups on their end.
The best way to manage this relationship is to put them at ease with proper planning and involvement. Create a clear timeline detailing milestones of a project and meet deadlines. Keep them in the loop and let them know that everything is on track. As the old axiom says, communication is the key to every good relationship.
The goalpost shifter
This is the client who, in nutshell, loves the work but wants you to change everything or has a concern that they just can’t articulate. This can be very frustrating because the agency may feel as if it’d have a better chance hitting a bullseye blindfolded in a dark room. No, the client doesn’t need to see a psychiatrist to be diagnosed with multiple personality disorder, but rather needs a partner who can help them clearly define and articulate the problem they’re trying to solve.
This might mean that you need to spend more time with them getting to the bottom of things before actually coming up with any solutions. Even after you’ve clearly identified the challenge, you might have to look at ways of solving it from different perspectives so that they can choose the one that makes them feel most comfortable.
Be patient and understanding because, most of the time, you’ll find that the reason the goalposts keep moving is that they don’t know how to express what the actual problem is. They’re not just trying to make life difficult for you; that would be counterintuitive as the agency is their brand custodian — in that case a trip to the looney bin might be needed.
The agency entruster
This client trusts the agency wholeheartedly and goes with the flow. Everybody enjoys the freedom of being able to work without too many restrictions and to make important decisions about where the brand needs to go. But with great power comes great responsibility.
It is liberating when a client gives you carte blanche and buys into blue-sky thinking, but the onus is on the agency to make sure that it’s not selling dreams but work that’s viable and feasible. There are few things as frustrating as being sold on something incredible, only to be told later that it’s not possible.
Another important factor is making sure that the work the agency does is coherent and communicates the brand message consistently to avoid making the brand come across as haphazard and erratic.
In a sense, the responsibility the client gives the agency is a double-edged sword. If handled incorrectly, the agency may ruin the brand and lose the client’s trust for good. If handled well, then both client and agency enjoy the good vibes forever. Or at least until the contract ends.
Most people believe that dealing with clients is the client service department’s job more than anyone else. That’s about as true as saying that it’s only up to reception to make your weekend stay at a hotel remarkable. As a business that offers solutions to clients, it’s everyone’s job to make sure that they’re happy.
It’s also important to remember that no client is better than the other but it’s the relationship with them that matters, regardless of their temperament. At the end of the day, work that everyone is proud of comes from agencies which value their creative product and care for the brands they work on. There will always be the occasional differences in opinion but, with a strong client-agency relationship, the road to iconic work becomes a lot less of a burden and a whole lot more rewarding.
TJ Njozela (@tj_njozela) is an award-winning senior copywriter at FCB Africa with several years of experience in the advertising industry. More than a writer, he is also a reader, a thinker, and an avid liker of things; and he once walked from Joburg to Cape Town in 30 days to raise funds to buy wheelchairs for people in need. #30Days30Wheelchairs. TJ contributes the regular “Agency Life” column, in which he gives career advice for working within the advertising industry, to MarkLives.